Hi, friends. Today I would like to take you guys to St. Fillan’s Church, a lovely parish church in Aberdour, Scotland. Aberdour is a picturesque, seaside village located about forty miles to the northwest of Edinburgh in the East Neuk of Fife.
St. Fillan’s sits next to Aberdour Castle, just on the other side of a stone wall.
The morning that Mr. C and I set out for St. Fillan’s, it was quite chilly and gray, a day befitting the exploration of a Scottish church from the Middle Ages. Once we arrived, we parked our car and walked up the small road toward the castle and the church.
At the churchyard, cheery daffodils greeted us, as did beautiful, tired, time-worn headstones that one can only imagine must have toppled over at some point before being laid to rest against the old, stone wall.
I couldn’t help feeling that we were about to enter a sacred place; strangers with one foot in the present and one foot that was about to step deep into the past. This holy place of worship was never ours, and yet it felt familiar and welcoming.
Who Was St. Fillan?
St. Fillan was an 8th century Irish abbot. According to a 2016 Historic Environment Scotland publication, St. Fillan “was born…to noble and saintly parents. His mother was Kentigerna, daughter of a prince of Leinster. According to legend, he was born disfigured and thrown into a lake at his father’s behest. He was miraculously rescued by St. Ibar, who baptised him.” It goes on to say, “Fillan came to Scotland in his youth and lived for many years as a hermit before being elected abbot of Pittenweem. His left arm was reputed to glow while he wrote. Fillan died on 17 January in Glendochart in Perthshire, where he had retired to resume his life as a hermit.”
Saint Fillan’s Church is one of the earliest surviving churches in Scotland. It was built in the early 12th century by the de Mortimer family, who also owned neighboring Aberdour Castle. Portions of the church date back to 1140 (possibly even earlier), which makes it nearly 900 years old! Originally built in the shape of a narrow rectangle, St. Fillan’s was redesigned and altered throughout the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries. By 1790, however, the church had fallen into disuse and had become a roofless ruin. And so it remained for more than a hundred years.
St. Fillan’s had a rebirth of sorts in the 1920s. Because of the vision and commitment of the local community in 1925, the church was lovingly restored and brought back to life. In July 1926, the community held the first service in well over a hundred years. What a day of rejoicing that must have been! St. Fillan’s continues to function as an active parish church today.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to have such a strong reaction when I stepped through the beautiful wooden doors into the church. I have been in many old churches, but I gasped as I stepped inside. Its beauty, size, and the richness of its architecture was astonishing. It was like walking through a portal to another time. Except for a few minor, modern touches, one could almost hear the voices of the saints of old, raised in song, reverberating between those cold, stone walls. Let’s take a quick peek inside.
St. Fillan’s has existed for some nine centuries and has served the spiritual needs of the people of Aberdour for over 600 years. May St. Fillan’s continue to be a blessing to its community and to all who happen to stumble upon this incredible treasure.